Lexington’s continuing efforts at urban renewal have elevated the importance of brownfields redevelopment as a tool for increasing our urban core density and reducing urban sprawl.
Substantial projects such as the Lexington Distillery District and the Rupp Arena Arts & Entertainment District seek to reclaim and repurpose blighted former industrial areas through environmental cleanup, floodplain control, streetscapes, public art and other community amenities. Increasing our urban density and reducing sprawl has also been the focus of Lexington’s infill and redevelopment program. These urban renewal plans will not be possible without the redevelopment of a number of Lexington’s brownfields.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines brownfields as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants.”
Properties that pose significant environmental health risks and require extensive remediation are usually referred to as “Superfund” sites and are governed by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund). In contrast, the term “brownfields” typically describes contaminated properties that are generally smaller in size than Superfund sites and usually involve low to moderate levels of contamination.
Begun in 1995, the EPA’s Brownfields Program seeks to “assess, safely cleanup, and sustainably reuse brownfields.” More than just factories, brownfields include a wide range of facilities that generate environmental waste, such as dry cleaners, gas stations, paper mills, scrap yards, landfills, steel mills, railroad spurs and strip mines. Through tax incentives, grants, low-interest loans, technical assistance, liability protection and fast-track government oversight, a range of federal, state and local governmental agencies work to cleanup and redevelop brownfields. The EPA estimates that more than 450,000 brownfield sites exist in the United States.